This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Night of the Living Bread (1990)

"Well, things are pretty chaotic right now. But we are doing everything we can to maintain a sense of normalcy. In fact, we're about to give communion."
"Communion? Doesn't that involve the use of the holy wafer? A form of bread?"
-Fr. Bryne and Jeff Drexel.

Like Hardware Wars, this is a delightful short film about a movie that unexpectedly became a major part of pop culture. It was made by filmmaker Kevin O'Brien at Ohio University.
In this 8-minute parody of Night of the Living Dead (1968), people are inexplicably attacked by slices of bread. Like its namesake, this movie begins with Barbra (Katie Harris) and her brother Johnny (Steve Herminghausen) are attacked upon arriving at a cemetery.
Johnny is smothered by the bread before Barbra takes refuge in a house along with Ben (Vince Ware). They attempt to escape along with fellow refugees Tom (Robert J. Saunders) and Judy (Gina Saunders). This includes warding the bread off with toasters and bolting the windows with sandwich bags. They also watch TV to keep up to date on the situation, only to have the power go out after learning of communion wafers attacking people at a church which is being used as an emergency shelter.
Alas, bread in a lunch bag inside the house kills Tom and the ladies, leaving Ben the only survivor until the morning when he's covered with bread as he opens the front door.
I think it's safe to say that this spoof got George Romero's seal of approval as it can be found on some DVD editions of his classic zombie flick.
Fittingly, O'Brien acknowledges Romero and others involved with that film in the end credits.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Interview with Benita Ha

For my first interview for the Agony Booth, I had the pleasure of interviewing the delightful actress Benita Ha.

Benita Ha is a Canadian actress who’s appeared in numerous movies and television shows, including X-Men: The Last Stand. She’s also lent her voice to a number of video games, and is also a nurse! I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this talented lady.

Benita, you’ve been in numerous movies, including X-Men: The Last Stand. Are there any movies that you’ve done that are your favorites?

There are movies that I’ve done which are my favorites because of the experience I had working on them. I’ve had many good times and learned so much on different film projects. One highlight was Case 39 because I worked with Renee Zellweger who is one of the most graceful, personable, kind, and friendly actors I have had the privilege to work with. To see her acting up close was a mesmerizing experience for me. Her scene with me involved her going from anger, horror, to shock and then resignation all within a span of 60 seconds without uttering a word. I’m very grateful to have had this experience and to have met her.

You also have many TV appearances to your name. Do any of those stand out for you?

Two that stand out are Mysterious Ways and The Haunting Hour. In Mysterious Ways, I played a Teaching Assistant who turns out to be an Angel. In the Haunting Hour I played a “Tiger Mom” of a 15 year old.

What inspired you to become an actress?

When I came to Canada from Hong Kong, I learned how to speak English by watching TV shows endlessly! Sesame Street, The Brady Bunch, and The Carol Burnett Show were my favorites, and quickly I knew that I wanted to be on TV someday, too. Early on, I acted in school plays and then went to theatre school. I was in love and have been hooked ever since.

Many actresses and actors try their hand at directing as well. Do you foresee yourself going into that field?

There was a period of time I considered this, but it was a brief phase and I eventually realized that my true love is acting. There are many great directors out there and I love working with them!

You’ve also lent your voice to video games. How does that differ from working on movies or TV?

Video games are fun! I don’t have to get all gussied up and try to look perfect, which is refreshing in this business. Also, I can get totally immersed physically in a way that is different than for on-screen acting. Also, I don’t have to worry about lighting, hitting my mark, or getting rained on! It’s a different kind of freedom.

In addition, you’ve been a news anchor and reporter. What is that line of work like?

I’m grateful for that opportunity and learned a lot working in the newsroom. Eventually though, I decided that I like the world of make-believe more. However, I definitely incorporate my real-world news experience into any newscaster, news anchor and reporter roles I get.

Along with acting, you are also a registered nurse. What inspired you to enter that profession?

I’m actually a Licensed Practical Nurse. Years ago, I had the opportunity to take care of an 80 year old man who was half paralyzed and I really enjoyed it. Afterwards, I wanted to continue to be of service in a hands-on way, and so nursing entered the equation. I really enjoy it and haven’t looked back since. Also, I believe the varied things I’ve seen and experienced as a nurse have added depth and helped me be a better actor.

Are there any actors, actresses or directors you’d like to work with?

I would love to work with J.J. Abrams. There are many actors and actresses who would be wonderful to work with as well. Off the top of my head, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep.

Who would you say are your biggest inspirations in your life?

Carol Burnett is definitely one. She is a living legend and my inspiration to become an actor. She has brought so much joy and laughter to our world and it was amazing to finally see her perform live here in Vancouver this summer.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?

I have a few projects soon to be released. If you’re a fan of Christmas movies, Christmas Cookies on the Hallmark Channel and Falling for Christmas (originally called A Snow Capped Christmas). I also recently shot a few episodes of Rogue, which is on DirectTV.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Agony Booth review: October movie predictions

This Agony Booth article was a collaboration between me and a few of my colleagues, regarding predictions for upcoming films.
It’s that time of year again, when the summer blockbuster season is long over and the studios bring us ostensibly more sophisticated fare. Join us as we predict the success or failure of every movie to be released in October (or at least, every movie we had something to say about) based solely on watching the trailers. If you find this article enlightening, let us know; it may become a monthly feature here at the Agony Booth.

Giving their predictions this first time around are: Joel Schlosberg, Julie Kushner, Rob Kirchgassner, Susan Velazquez, Thomas Ricard, Thomas Stockel, and Dr. Winston O’Boogie.

The Girl on the Train (Oct 7)
Emily Blunt rides the train every day and spies on/fantasizes about a husband and wife she passes along the way. The wife goes missing, Blunt witnesses something terrible from the train, and you have all the makings of this year’s Gone Girl.


Julie: I liked this book. I remember it being the “it” book to be reading the summer it came out. I’m having a little trouble buying the still-gorgeous looking, if maybe slightly in need of a nap, Emily Blunt as the frumpy, overweight, raging alcoholic Rachel character, whose personal appearance characters both male and female aggressively deride throughout the entire story. Nonetheless, the trailer gives the film that sleek, vaguely artsy, “murder is sexy” feel that Gone Girl had, like it’s custom-made to make the viewer feel cooler and smarter for being able to tell others they saw it and “appreciated its symbolism” or some nonsense like that. So I say, HIT!

Thomas R: Emily Blunt has been on a roll these past three years, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her score her first Oscar nomination for this. The movie itself looks like a self-serious tabloid soap opera, but given the ingredients on display (rising movie star, sensational topic, bestselling source material), it should do very well at the box office. HIT.

Susan: I’m amazed the premise of this movie is built on the blurry, three-second-long view a person has when they look out a train window. I have so many questions about this: Are the owners of the houses bothered by the noise of the train? Does anybody else besides Emily Blunt notice the blonde couple having sex in front of the open windows? What are the property values like? Anyway, enough fans of the book will buy tickets just to confirm that the book was better. HIT.

Thomas S: Speaking as a fan of British mystery programs, the trailer was utterly ruined at the sound of the first American accent. But it’ll probably be a HIT.

Rob: Blunt is always worth watching, so if the movie does her justice, it’ll be a HIT.

Winston: This might aspire to be the next Gone Girl, but director Tate Taylor (The Help) is obviously no David Fincher. Likewise, Gone Girl had a star (Ben Affleck) whose name has some marquee value, which unfortunately can’t be said for Blunt or the Poor Man’s Jennifer Lawrence (AKA Haley Bennett). Still, it’s based on a successful trashy airport novel, so expect a respectable though not overwhelming HIT.

The Birth of a Nation (Oct 7)
The title of a 1915 KKK propaganda film is repurposed for the story of Nat Turner, a slave who led a rebellion in 1831 Virginia. This film got early buzz at festivals from those looking to defuse another possible #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2017. Since then, 1999 rape charges against director Nate Parker and his co-writer have resurfaced, causing plenty of controversy and potentially dooming the film’s chances at the Oscars and at the box office.


Thomas R: Given America’s current political atmosphere, this should have no trouble finding an audience. I’m wary of the trailer’s calculated Oscar-baiting, and Nate Parker’s old rape charges make it all the more uncomfortable to watch, but there’s no denying how exciting the mere idea of a Nat Turner biopic named after a Ku Klux Klan propaganda film is. HIT.

Susan: Does the potential impact and value of an artistic work outweigh the sins of its creators? The answer is debatable, but I think it becomes less murky when the work isn’t any good. This is just a trailer, but The Birth of a Nation just looks terrible. The plot seems to be a beat by beat recreation of 12 Years a Slave, and the acting is so over-dramatic that I’m surprised Nat Turner doesn’t have a halo over his head and the villains don’t have mustaches to twirl. The quality of the film isn’t strong enough to cancel out Nate Parker’s PR nightmare. BOMB.

Thomas S: Oscar Bait, but it’ll probably do better numbers than Free State of Jones. Tentative HIT.

Rob: The 1915 movie of the same name is hated for treating the KKK as heroes but praised for its technical attributes. Story-wise, Nate Parker’s version seems to be a strong counterpoint to it, although Parker’s current personal drama will likely hurt the film at the box office (à la all of Mel Gibson’s films since Apocalypto). BOMB.

Winston: Regardless of Parker’s past, Nat Turner’s story deserves to be told, but it appears this film diverges a great deal from the historical record. Also, in their rush to secure a deal, the studio agreed to give Birth of a Nation a wide release, whereas this is clearly a film that needs to open small and expand as word of mouth builds. This one will likely end up like Free State of Jones and be forgotten in two weeks. BOMB.

Voyage of Time (Oct 7)
Terrence Malick takes time out from filming beaches, swimming pools, and twirling actresses for this documentary that’s essentially an expansion of the “birth of the galaxy” sequence from The Tree of Life. This examination of the birth and death of the universe will be released in two versions: a Brad Pitt-narrated 40-minute version specifically for IMAX theaters, and a feature-length version narrated by Cate Blanchett.


Julie: This reminds me of one of those soporific relaxation videos they put on YouTube to help people with their insomnia. In fact, I’m pretty sure I dozed off at least twice while watching the trailer. I may very well be sleeping right now on my keyboard as I type this. BOOMMBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Thomas R: After the unintentional self-parody that was Knight of Cups, I had hoped Malick would move on to something new. “Extended National Geographic documentary narrated by celebrities” wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but I’ll stay cautiously optimistic, though I expect most viewers will skip it. BOMB.

Susan: Oh, thank God that Cate Blanchett is doing the feature-length one. Time for me to go down to my local theater and be soothed by the sweet voice of a British woman who’s more beautiful and rich than I’ll ever be. HIT.

Thomas S: Sorry, but I don’t care how pretty your movie is, if it’s not Carl Sagan telling me how the universe began then I remain skeptical. BOMB.

Rob: A documentary about the origins of the universe written and directed by the legendary Malick is sure to draw the interest of cinemagoers. But there’s a chance people may want to wait for the feature-length version narrated by Cate Blanchett, given Brad Pitt’s current divorce drama. BOMB.

Joel: It’s like those James Cameron documentaries that nobody saw, except those had James Cameron. BOMB.

Winston: The abbreviated IMAX version looks intriguing and will probably be a HIT (assuming the bar for IMAX success is rather low). The longer Blanchett-narrated version, on the other hand, sounds like 90 minutes of pretentious twaddle and will likely be a BOMB.

The Accountant(Oct 14)
Ben Affleck stars as a mathematical genius (why are you laughing?) who works as an accountant for shady criminal organizations. With federal agent J.K. Simmons closing in, Affleck decides to take on a legitimate client, and he and Anna Kendrick uncover a discrepancy involving millions of dollars.


Julie: Best PR advertising campaign for a major in accounting I’ve ever seen. And they said audits aren’t sexy! HIT!

Thomas R: So, this is basically A Beautiful Mind if John Nash’s hallucinations were real? It looks pretty ridiculous, and the “autistic savant superhero” stereotype is more than a little played out, but I have a feeling enough people will like it for it to turn a modest profit. HIT.

Susan: Call me crazy, but I never really thought of Ben Affleck as a “smart guy”. I just don’t buy him as a socially awkward genius and a macho action hero, especially not in the same movie. Also, Anna Kendrick looks like she wandered in from a quirky indie comedy by mistake. The supporting casts looks great, but it’s too bad the leads are so miscast. BOMB.

Thomas S: So Affleck plays a genius (Will Hunting) who can shoot and is hunted by the feds (Jason Bourne), and he wears glasses (Tom Ripley)? I wonder if later in the movie he buys a zoo or goes to Mars. BOMB.

Rob: The title character, played by Ben Affleck, is one who works for dangerous people. Intriguing setup, but, like Pitt, Affleck is currently undergoing divorce drama which may cause this film to meet the same fate as Batman v. Superman. BOMB.

Joel: I never expected Good Will Hunting or A Beautiful Mind to appeal to general audiences, but they did. By extrapolation, this probably will as well. HIT.

Max Steel (Oct 14)
Based on the line of action figures from Mattel, a teenager named Max joins forces with his “techno-organic” alien companion Steel to become a superhero and fight whatever vague sinister forces are currently posing a threat to the galaxy.


Julie: Okay, so basically, it’s Spider-Man… wearing a bargain basement version of the Iron Man suit, with his wisecracking trusty pal Wall-E by his side to help him get the girl and save the world. I know Max Steel is supposed to be a popular line of toys for kids who were raised in a cardboard box, and therefore are unaware of how many cooler superhero characters exist in this universe, but this just sounds (and looks) like bad crossover fanfiction at best, and blatant plagiarism at worst. Me thinks someone is about to get sued. BOMB.

Thomas R: Apparently, someone in Hollywood watched the two Amazing Spider-Man films and thought: “You know what’s missing from these? An annoying talking robot and a vaguely menacing cloud of CGI!” Maybe enough kids will drag their parents to the theater for it to make a few bucks, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for any sequels. BOMB.

Susan: Bad acting, an annoying robot who serves as comic relief, and a vague urgency to save the world? Shouldn’t this have been a Disney Channel Original Movie instead? BOMB.

Thomas S: Yeah, I liked it better when it was called The Guyver. BOMB… BOMB… BOMB…

Rob: So it’s basically the old “guy tries to live up to his father’s legacy” plotline with a superhero twist. The trailer doesn’t really offer anything we haven’t seen before, but I’m still keeping an open mind about this one. HIT.

Joel: The trailer gave me flashbacks to Jupiter Ascending, The Last Mimzy, that Ratchet & Clank movie nobody but me saw, and that annoying flying robot in Flubber. BOMB.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Oct 21)
The first Jack Reacher was a surprise hit, and luckily there are like 20 more Jack Reacher books. Tom Cruise reprises his role as the former Army Major and private investigator, who this time is accused of murder. In attempting to clear his name, he uncovers a government conspiracy and learns he has a child he’s never met (who we assume was being kept away from him by a Suppressive Person).


Julie: I find it fitting that the subtitle for this sequel is “Never Go Back”, which is probably what most of the audience was saying upon leaving the theater after the first movie. BOMB.

Thomas R: While not without faults, the first Jack Reacher was a fun little pulp thriller which Tom Cruise carried surprisingly well. The sequel looks completely disposable, but it’s likely to be appreciated by middle-aged dads everywhere. HIT.

Susan: I would say BOMB, but people keep buying enough tickets to make more Jack Reacher movies, so I’m sure this one will make back its budget and leave the door open for more sequels. Hey, Tom Cruise has to make money somehow, right? HIT.

Thomas S: Am I the only one drooling over a Jack Reacher/John Wick crossover movie? C’mon, Hollywood, don’t make us wait twenty five years like you did with Alien vs Predator! Oh, and HIT.

Rob: Ever since Katie Holmes divorced him, Tom Cruise has basically just been cashing paychecks with both movies like this and the Mission: Impossible series. Hence, it doesn’t really matter if this movie is a HIT, because I think Cruise was at his most interesting when he did films that flexed his acting muscles, not just his physical ones.

Joel: Unlike Tom Hanks in Inferno, Tom Cruise looks like he wants to be here. And even if American audiences are tired of his off-screen antics, the first movie’s $140 million foreign box office demonstrated a reliable international following for his Jack Reacher. HIT.

Winston: I’m still unclear as to why the first movie earned such high marks from film fans, considering it had a meandering plot that made little sense and dragged on for over two hours. But Tom Cruise is one of the few names that can still open a film, and with the 65% box office rule of thumb about sequels, it’ll probably eke out a profit. HIT.

I’m Not Ashamed (Oct 21)
Rachel Scott was tragically murdered in the Columbine massacre, and reportedly her last words were to declare her belief in God. Her family has since turned her journals into six books about Rachel and her faith, and now comes this Christian-oriented take on Columbine from the same studio that brought us the God’s Not Dead series.


Julie: The whole concept behind this movie makes me uncomfortable, and, honestly, feels a bit exploitive to me, not just of Rachel Scott, the first murder victim of the Columbine massacre, but of all the Columbine victims and their families. The trailer also seems to unfairly characterize, or at least aggressively shade, these murders as a religious hate crime, when what they were was a crime against humanity. I imagine that due to its controversial subject matter and strong religious overtones, this film won’t see a wide release. Though it may gain a sizable (cult?) following among devout Christians, and experience a resurgence in popularity when it inevitably finds its home on the Christian television channel circuit, commercially, I’m going to say BOMB on this one.

Thomas R: While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating a life that was senselessly taken from the world or making sure that celebration reflects the person’s deeply-held Christian beliefs, I sincerely hope the film’s examination of the tragedy’s victims and perpetrators isn’t as naively simplistic as it looks. Good or bad, Pure Flix’s track record indicates this will likely end up a HIT.

Susan: No need to wonder if it was violent video games or cruel bullying that caused the Columbine shooting. According to the Rachel Joy Scott story, all those boys needed was to love Jesus! It’s a simplistic message that a Christian audience will swallow up easily while everyone else chokes on the cheesiness. BOMB.

Thomas S: The only part of that trailer I was remotely interested in was when the woman said “chain reaction”, which is an awesome Journey song. HIT, but only because it probably has a budget of a million dollars.

Rob: God’s Not Dead was not so much pro-Christian as it was anti-non-Christian (and, for the record, I’m a proud Catholic myself). If this film actually follows through with respecting the differences of others (as Rachel, played by Masey McLain, states in the trailer) then maybe it’ll be a HIT.

Joel: Too earnest for non-ironic crossover appeal, too earnest for ironic crossover appeal, and the culture wars that would energize the base have moved on. BOMB.

Winston: This will of course be a terrible film, but even God’s Not Dead 2 made back three times its budget. HIT, sadly.

Keeping Up with the Joneses (Oct 21)
Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher (your typical schlubby guy/hot chick comedy pairing) are a suburban couple who discover that their neighbors (Don Draper, Wonder Woman) are really secret government agents.


Julie: WARNING: The trailer will spoil this entire movie plot from start to finish in under three minutes, thereby saving you $13.00. Don Draper, you are responsible for creating the most famous Coke commercial and jingle of all time. I expected better from you than this. BOMB!

Thomas R: Action-comedies are really hard to pull off, especially if the mix you’re going for is “Judd Apatow sitcom meets Mr. & Mrs. Smith”. The trailer didn’t get so much as a lip twitch out of me, and I doubt the movie will fare much better. BOMB.

Susan: Wasn’t this movie already made? I believe it was called Date Night. Or maybe it was Knight and Day? No, wasn’t it Killers? Either way, it didn’t do well when it was a single guy and a single gal. How does doubling the numbers make a difference? BOMB.

Thomas S: Wow, I am so glad the studio was kind enough to tell me the plot of the entire movie in that trailer, saving me two hours of my life. Probably a HIT regardless.

Rob: Think of The ‘Burbs, only with the couple discovering their new neighbors are not murderous wackos, but secret agents. The trailer doesn’t provide too many laughs, so we’ll see. HIT.

Joel: They keep making spy spoofs, but those haven’t been megahit material since Austin Powers. And it looks too soft for action and raunchy comedy fans, but not soft enough for those whose tastes are for milder sitcom or rom-com humor. BOMB.

Inferno (Oct 28)
In this sequel to The Da Vinci Code, again directed by Ron Howard, Tom Hanks returns as symbologist Robert Langdon. This time around, he and Felicity Jones must solve clues hidden in Dante’s Divine Comedy in order to stop a global pandemic.


Susan: It doesn’t look as fun as Da Vinci Code, but it looks more engaging than the snooze-worthy Angels & Demons. Dan Brown has enough of a loyal following to get decent box office returns. HIT.

Thomas R: If you missed watching a confused-looking Tom Hanks running around European capitals to stare at paintings with attractive young female scientists, this might float your boat. But somehow, I get the feeling most viewers have moved on to other things in the intervening seven years. BOMB.

Thomas S: Remember what I said about The Joneses above? Yeah, ditto here. Still going to be a HIT because it’s Tom Hanks, and people seem to love watching him run around spouting what sounds like authentic historical stuff.

Rob: Definitely not to be confused with the Dario Argento film of the same name. Both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were watchable but not superb, so I expect this one to follow suit. HIT.

Joel: Tom Hanks has difficulty remembering his previous exploits in his least-loved role, and so do we. Where’s Nicolas Cage when you need him? BOMB.